There are just over one million trustees across the UK supporting around 196,000 charitable organisations and the latest statistics suggest there are more than 100,000 unfilled charity trustee vacancies in the UK. Nearly three quarters of charities have reported difficulties hiring trustees and many want to recruit people with professional skills.
Trustees Unlimited runs the Step on Board programme for people looking to become a charity trustee. It says being a charity trustee not only means you can contribute more to the community, but gives you valuable strategic skills and board level experience which can help in the workplace. Sophie Livingstone is Managing Director at Trustees Unlimited and also a trustee of several charities. Here she gives some tips for those thinking about becoming a trustee in 2019:
Be really clear about the responsibilities you are taking on. Ask what the time commitments are, how many board meetings you will need to attend and how much preparation is needed. Being a trustee can add up to quite a bit of time over a year, so make sure you can commit to this.
Every charity has a governance document containing rules for trustees. Make sure you see this at the outset, as it is your duty to comply with these rules and you may be held legally responsible if you do not.
Get an understanding of the culture and leadership style within the organisation. Spend time at the charity’s head office and on the frontline.
Ask about the charity’s strategic direction and business objectives and think about what skills you can offer to help them achieve these.
Find out what the charities’ resources are; everything from the land it owns to intellectual property and trademarks, as well as its main funding sources.
Ask about training and the induction processes for new trustees. Trustees need a proper induction and as much support as possible, especially if it’s their first trustee role.
Remember that you will need to put the organisation first if there is a crisis or an urgent need. As a trustee it is your duty to put the charity before other commitments.
Understand who the beneficiaries are, as this is where the organisation’s loyalty lies.
Be very careful about the ‘collective’ board decisions that are made. If you don’t agree with a decision, you must register your dissent. If you are not at a meeting, read the minutes and make sure you have your say.
It sounds obvious, but join a charity that does work you’re really passionate about. When a Board has to make tough decisions, the cause and impact of the charity’s work on its beneficiaries needs to be your guidestar.